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“Never underlead an ace”

Have you heard the motto, “Never underlead an ace”.

There is much validity to this, but it needs clarification: At Trick One (although not once dummy is tabled), in a trump contract (not notrumps), it is most unwise to lead a low card from a suit headed by the ace.

Consider this layout:
West             East
AJ85            Q10962

Left to his own devices, declarer will try to promote his king by leading from dummy in the hope that East holds the ace. The finesse will fail this time, though, his king losing to West’s ace. The only way declarer can score a trick with the king is if West is kind enough to lead the suit. Note that it doesn’t matter whether West leads low or the ace - either way the king is promoted.

South Deals
None Vul
8 6 5
10 8 7
A K 6
8 5 4 2
A J 4
J 9 5
8 7 3
A 10 6 3
W   E
Q 10 9 7 2
J 10 9 4
Q J 9
K 3
A K Q 6 4 2
Q 5 2
K 7
West North East South
Pass 1 NT Pass 3 1
Pass 4 2 All pass  
  1. Jumping to shows 16+ points (and a six card suit).
  2. Two quick tricks and three trumps make the raise worthwhile.


What happened
West came from the (outdated) “I lead my best suit, please return it partner” school. His  3 lead was disastrous. Declarer won the first trick with  K, a card he was not otherwise destined to make. He quickly drew trumps, cashed diamonds, and led towards  K for his eleventh trick. This finesse failed,  K losing to West’s  A, but it was ten tricks and game made.

What should have happened
West has seven losing leads and six winning ones. The losing ones are his black cards, leading away from an ace and promoting declarer’s king of the suit. West’s winning leads are his passive red cards. A trump lead would be fine, but a tad better (perhaps finding partner at home) is a diamond (choosing  7 as a “high for hate lead” - more anon).

Declarer wins  Q, draws trumps, then crosses to  K to lead towards one black-suit king. West wins his ace, exits passively (anything but the other black suit), and declarer wins, leads over to  A, then leads to the other black king. West again beats it with his ace, and the defence score two tricks in each black suit. Down one.

If you remember one thing...
Do not lead away from an ace at Trick One to a trump contract.

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